Considerations For Banning Or Limiting Social Media On Institution-Owned Devices

A growing number of universities are banning TikTok on school-owned devices and university networks - universities in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Montana, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Texas, for example. These universities often say recent state and federal bans led to their decision. More than 30 states have banned TikTok at varying levels. In addition, the U.S. Congress banned TikTok from government-issued devices, and the U.S. armed forces banned it on military devices.

TikTok, which is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, is believed to be able to share sensitive data with the Chinese government. Higher education institutions could lose public funding or face a lawsuit if personnel, student, or research data is breached.

Users at universities with bans can still access TikTok on personal devices using cellular data. As a result, the bans may not have the intended security effect. N'dea Yancey-Bragg "Why are universities banning TikTok? Campuses are limiting use on school devices and Wi-Fi" (Jan. 19, 2023).

Commentary and Checklist

In addition to potentially putting sensitive information at risk, TikTok and other social media sites could lead to bullying behavior and other security risks. For example, in October 2021, the Ohio School Safety Center warned of a TikTok challenge in which users challenge students to engage in harmful behavior, from school vandalism to slapping a teacher. “Situational Awareness Bulletin: October TikTok Challenge” (Oct. 01, 2021).

If your organization is considering banning or limiting social media, here are some things to consider:

  • If you allow social media on campus, prohibit sharing sensitive information and only allow the posting of public information.
  • Be able to define what is an institution-owned device if you plan to limit or ban social media use.
  • Encourage users to always set their privacy settings to limit who can see their information and use a secure, encrypted network.
  • Prohibit students from engaging in bullying behavior on social media or that is encouraged by social media.
  • Train staff on how to monitor student social media use for signs of misbehavior.
  • Prohibit using the institution's name or logo in an unsanctioned way.
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